The Cavs are getting lots of praise for hiring the University of Michigan’s John Beilein as their new head coach. The 66-year-old has spent the last 12 years with Michigan, leading the Wolverines to the NCAA Final Four twice.
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto describes Beilein as a "basketball savant" with the ability to communicate with young players.
Pluto says that while the move came as a surprise, there were hints that Beilein was interested in making a move last year when he was briefly a candidate for the Detroit Pistons head coaching vacancy. He wasn't offered the job, but Pluto said Beilein made some comments at a press conference afterwards about how his friend, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, is "having a blast" in the NBA. Stevens went from coaching at Butler University to Boston in 2013.
"That jumps off the page that this guy, even at that age, may be thinking that if he has one more move in him, maybe he'll go to the pros."
The Michigan connection
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert played a big role in hiring Beilein, as the Detroit native has most of his business interests there. Michigan State University's coach, Tom Izzo, turned down the Cavs' head coaching job in 2010.
And Pluto says to Gilbert, NBA coaching experience has never been a job requirement.
"Gilbert's view is, he didn't go from a guy delivering pizzas in Detroit to being worth $7.3 billion, according to Forbes, without taking some risk. And most of the other coaches he hires have never been head coaches before. Even in his business, generally people are promoted from within or there's somebody who maybe is getting a job they didn't exactly have before."
How it can work
Still, Pluto acknowledges that hiring Beilein most definitely comes with some risk, as coaching in the NBA is much different than the NCAA.
"You have to be careful about the kind of roster you give him, because if you give him some grizzled veterans, forget it. They don't care what you did at Michigan. But if you keep Kevin Love, Matthew Dellavedova and Larry Nance, Jr., who are good 'team guys' to back the coach to help him with the younger players, that could work. A Cavs executive told me they would have never hired Beilein to coach LeBron James."
Preparing for the draft
Pluto also says the Cavs wanted Beilein in place ahead of next month's NBA draft and this week's NBA Draft Combine so he can start evaluating players.
In addition to their incoming high draft picks, the Cavs have three key players all under the age of 24 (Collin Sexton, Ante Zizic and Cedi Osman).
Why Pluto likes the hire
"I'd rather have this guy over some faceless assistant who maybe coached a little in the minors but most haven't even been head coach anywhere," Pluto said.
And Pluto says it's not just Gilbert that was sold on Beilein.
"Koby Altman, the general manager, is flying sky-high on this one. He really thinks he has a coach who sees things the way he does in terms of ball movement and young guys. This is probably as much cooperation between the front office and ownership as you're going to get for the Cavs."